What Is a ‘Good’ Wife?

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8125392910_89cecedeb2_o OK, confession time: Marriage is hard. I’ve been at it for more than 12 years, and I feel like I know even less now than I did the day we walked down the aisle.

I have  two voices in my head about being a wife. One whispers that a good wife makes sure her husband is taken care of, cooks the meals and cares for the children, all without complaint. The other shouts at me: “You are equals! Share the load! Act as partners!”

Like the cliché angel and devil on my shoulder, these voices battle it out day in and day out, prompting alternating bouts of guilt, anger and disillusionment. They leave me second-guessing every decision. Is this what a “good wife” does? Am I being fair? Am I setting the right example for my kids? Are we happy?

I pretty much agree with the loud, progressive voice. My vision of marriage is one of partnership and shared responsibilities based on each one’s strengths and preferences. I know it can’t always work that way, and there certainly has to be a lot of compromise involved. This “modern” viewpoint is more in line with our way of life, where both parents work outside the home and life keeps us all pretty crazy.

A Pew Research study found that 71% of Americans believe that a more egalitarian marriage, where both partners work and share responsibilities for household duties and child rearing, is more satisfying.

So where does that insidious whispering voice come from? That voice lays on the guilt if I’m not the perfect wife, managing everything with a smile. It’s not from my husband, although I don’t think he minds if I do most of the chores. My family isn’t super conservative. My mom worked, as did all my aunts and even my grandmother. My dad volunteered at my school, helped with my homework and ferried me back and forth to gymnastics practices.

Is it simply societal norms? If so, it is definitely pervasive. Data from the 2013 Bureau Of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that women still spend an average of 51 more minutes every day on household chores than men do. A 2013 study showed that marriages with more traditional roles actually had more sex and that both partners were more sexually satisfied.

I’m often tempted to think that the pressure to be super-wife, capable of balancing ridiculous workloads in a single bound, is simply an extension of my own need to achieve. But too many of my friends are dealing with this same pressure and self doubt. Most of us are the “personal assistants for our families,” as one friend says;  we attend to every need of our kids and our partners.

Must I don a 1950’s apron and coiffed hairstyle to convince society – and myself – that I’m a good wife? I don’t think so, but that nagging voice in my head is a testament to continued societal pressures on women.

As we navigate the continuing evolution of modern marriage, work and family, we have to give ourselves a break – and remind our friends to give themselves one too. I think we need to keep talking to our husbands, our daughters, and our sons about the challenges of balancing life today.

Hopefully one day I’ll figure out this marriage thing. Or maybe my daughter will.




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